Unless you’re blessed with eternal youth, you might relate to the following experience: you wake up after a bad night’s sleep and stumble into the bathroom. You catch a glimpse of your face in the mirror.
It’s a dispiriting sight; the skin around your eyes has turned a few shades darker, maybe even bloated and puffy. Is it just the bathroom lighting, or are they really that dark?
Sadly, it’s not a shadow though; you really do have a new set of prominent dark circles around your eyes. It doesn’t seem fair, does it? Isn’t it called ‘beauty sleep’ for a reason?
What do we know about the dark circles?
Despite being something that afflicts many people, there hasn’t actually been that much research done into dark circles. But here are some key facts that researchers have discovered:
- Dark circles affect both men and women, and people of all races.
- There’s no data on how common they are, but as many people discover for themselves, they appear more frequently the older you get.
- ‘Dark circles’ isn’t their official medical name. The experts refer to them as ‘periorbital hypercromic macules and patches.’ I’ll stick with dark circles in this article!
- Other than home remedies and lifestyle changes, there’s no recognized, effective treatment for dark circles that never seem to go away. But cosmetic medicine researchers have reported some success with laser treatments.
And finally, there’s one key point that many researchers make:
- Most scientists consider dark circles to be part of your body’s normal processes.
This is important for two reasons. First, while many people find the sight of dark circles disturbing and upsetting, they aren’t dangerous or painful.
Second, this finding is also a major reason why scientists haven’t studied dark circles to any great extent: They just aren’t seen as a threat to your health. As a result, researchers have focused their attention elsewhere.
Why do they appear?
This lack of research means that there’s no agreed theory about how dark circles form around the eyes. Let’s look at some of the suggested causes:
The skin around your eyes is different from the skin around much of the rest of your body.
The dermis layer of skin (which is just under the surface) is between 1.5 – 4 mm thick. However, around your eyes it’s less than half as thick; only 1 – 2 mm. This can make changes to the surrounding blood vessels much more noticeable.
Blood escaping from these vessels comes into contact with oxygen. This changes the color of the skin in the dermis layer, creating dark circles. These changes can also cause swelling (the so-called ‘bags’ under your eyes).
Linked to allergies
What causes the changes to the blood vessels around the eyes I mentioned above? Some researchers think it could be related to allergies.
Your body’s reaction to allergy-causing particles can make your eyes itchy. In turn, rubbing and scratching the area around your eyes can then cause the color of the skin to change.
If you suffer from allergies such as hay fever that can result in itching and eye rubbing at night, have a look at my tips for sleeping with hay fever.
The region around the eye seems to have a ‘spongy’ property. This means that the lower layers of skin can hold onto fluids that build up around the eyes.
Fluid appears to be more common in the morning, and the spongy skin around the eye retains the fluid. This gives the area a puffy appearance when you first wake up.
As the fluid circulates around the body over the course of the rest of the day, your face should steadily return to normal.
Interestingly, fluid build-up appears to be more common after you’ve eaten a salty meal; anything that slows down your normal blood flow can contribute to dark circles forming.
An unhealthy diet, smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol can all slow down the blood flow around the eyes. So you might find addressing these lifestyle factors could reduce the appearance of dark, puffy eyes.
How to prevent dark circles under your eyes
I mentioned that researchers have had some success with laser therapy. However, this seems like an extreme way of curing dark circles. Fortunately, there are some simpler and natural strategies that you can try.
Get enough sleep
Having dark circles on a permanent basis could be a sign of sleep deprivation and exhaustion. And the simplest remedy to that is of course to get more sleep.
I know that can be easier said than done, but if you see your eyes as an early warning system of exhaustion, it might help motivate you to focus more on getting enough sleep.
Stop rubbing your eyes
To avoid damaging the blood vessels in the thin layers of skin around your eyes, try not to rub your eyes as much. It might be difficult at times, but try to resist if you can.
As I’ve mentioned, allergies and dark circles appear to be linked. Managing any allergies that you might have will help avoid feelings of itchiness around the eyes, making you less likely to rub them.
They might also be a sign of an undetected allergy. So if it’s a constant issue, it might be worth getting an allergy test.
Change your sleeping position
Some researchers have suggested that changing your sleeping position can be effective.
Gravity causes fluids to collect around your eyes, adding to the appearance of dark circles. Sleeping on your front might aggravate dark circles, while sleeping on your back might help to reduce them.
Focus on your diet
As with so many things in life, your diet can go a long way to helping the appearance of your skin. Eating a healthy, balanced diet full of fresh vegetables and fruit might help.
And avoiding too much salt, sugar, alcohol and smoking is also a plus for the skin.
The old cucumber slice trick
Is it an urban myth, or does it really work? You’ll have to find out for yourself as you lie on your back with freshly cut cucumber slices placed on each eye for 10-15 minutes.
Deal with stress
Finally, a positive step which can improve both your quality of sleep and the way your body deals with problems is to tackle stress. Have a read of my article about mindfulness for a great starting point for stress reduction.
Dark circles tell others how tired you are.
In a recent research study, participants were shown photos of people’s faces and asked how tired they looked, as well as why they thought they looked tired.
The participants then gave each photo a tiredness score. And the researchers used those scores to work out what type of facial changes associated with a lack of sleep make you appear most tired.
While dark circles scored highly on the scale, they weren’t the only change that participants focused on. Red eyes, dark circles and paler skin were all found to be signs of a lack of sleep.
We often joke about needing our ‘beauty sleep’ to improve our appearance. But perhaps it’s more a case of needing it to prevent looking worse than we did the day before!
Dark circles can make you look sad
The participants in the above study also made an association between sadness and tiredness. This is interesting because it shows how others see you when you’re tired.
Those dark circles, puffiness and red eyes coming from a lack of sleep can all make people think you’re feeling sad.
Logically, if you’ve not had enough sleep, you’re probably not at your happiest. However, your tiredness can lead people to think you’re really not enjoying yourself or something more serious is wrong.
So if you find yourself in a situation where you need to present a positive image, but are feeling particularly tired, it might help to smile more to balance things out.
Even though dark circles around your eyes aren’t dangerous, they can be a real annoyance. They can change how you look and how you feel about your appearance.
There’s a psychological element to dark circles. They can influence how people see you; friends and colleagues may think you’re sad or depressed. They give away how much (or how little) sleep you’ve had.
There’s no easy cure for dark circles. If you’re able to be more mindful about rubbing your eyes, managing your allergies and monitoring how you sleep, you may see some positive effects. Reducing the levels of salt, alcohol and nicotine you consume could also help.